I write this entry as a disinterested (i.e., impartial) observer, and also to echo comsense’s hope for peace between RLPhoto and privatebydesign.
I see between the two writers something of what I have seen in other contexts when reasonable persons discuss questions of how human expression is realized in artistic or creative contexts. My observations are neither meant nor intended to be definitive. Rather, I present my perception as a “best-guess-paraphrase” of the lively exchange in this thread on Canon’s 135 f/2L and 100 f/2.8L Macro IS lenses. My characterizations of RLPhoto and privatebydesign rest only on what I have read or seen from them on this site and on what I have seen on any of their personal sites they have referenced.
From my reading of RLPhoto’s entries in this and in other threads, as well as from my perusal of his website, I understand him to be a photographer-as-artist. His work is photography qua photography, and his language coincides with that identity. Many of RLPhoto’s posts have noted the question of “good photography”. Indeed, RLPhoto reminds me pianists (for example), who play beautifully, regardless of what instrument they have at hand, be it a Yamaha, a Steinway, or a Bösendorfer. At no point would such pianists deny differences in physical and acoustic properties of the instruments. It is not uncommon, though, that such a pianist–let’s call him Chuck–might make statements such as “I get the best tone from the action on a Bösendorfer. A Steinway keyboard doesn’t let me be as expressive of maestoso aspects”. So, when RLPhoto refers to a “unique look” in his use of the 135L, I take his use of language in the context of how photographers qua photographers express themselves. Put another way, when talking about their field, such photographers may at times tend to use language in non-literal ways, despite their word choices. I do not pretend to speak for RLPhoto, but I offer the proposition that, when he cites “35% more compression”–for example–his statement does not derive from measurements taken in a physics or optics laboratory. He is speaking more loosely, I speculate, than would a physicist on the same matter. When he speaks of a “unique look”, he speaks as Chuck does in describing the action of a Bösendorfer.
Alternatively, privatebydesign, in the majority of his posts, appears to express himself in rather literal ways. He offers advice and opinion based on technical, specified, published, or other such concrete, testable information or data. Naturally, then, for someone who uses language in a more literal way–let’s call him Fred–on hearing statements such as that made by Chuck, might respond along the lines of, “What do you mean you can’t be as expressive on a Steinway? In what way? By what criteria? Are you suggesting that you can’t get the same sound and expressiveness on a Steinway as you can on a Bösendorfer?”
And there it begins. Chuck might say, “When I play a Bösendorfer, I get the tone I want, a tone that I know, a tone I can hear. I don’t need to measure anything. I know what I’m playing and what I’m hearing. Fred might say, “If we record two persons playing the same passage, the Steinway pianist can get, with minor accommodations, the same or similar level of expressiveness as you can on your Bösendorfer.” “No, he can’t.” “Yes, he can.” And so it goes.
Before continuing, let me clarify that my analogy is not that of comparing pianos from different manufacturers with lenses from a single manufacturer. My analogy goes merely to the matter of two different objects producing similar–or not–results. Furthermore, the piano-lens comparison is not at issue here.
But a focus on language is.
I imagine that RLPhoto and privatebydesign might agree on a good deal in photography. What seems to have happened is that RLPhoto’s use of language strikes privatebydesign as imprecise and, even, as an instance of spreading inaccurate or misleading information. I do not take RLPhoto to be someone who would spread misinformation deliberately, and neither do I take him to be “wrong” in his statements. He speaks what is true for him, what is true for his experience, and what is true for his work. I speculate further that he does not propose to speak in the manner of a scientist, and that he does not respond or conduct his posts in a scientistic mode.
Alternatively, privatebydesign’s observations on the 100 and 135 lenses seem to be grounded on principles of mathematics and physics. His statements on the lenses are also not based, I believe, on anything in the way of feeling or art. What he expresses is true, verifiable, and not inherently inflammatory.
Both gentlemen, then, have expressed truths, but they have “talked past each other”, so to speak. I stand with others in this thread in being surprised by the continued tension between RLPhoto, privatebydesign, and their occasional supporters.
I suggest that a difference in the way each contributor uses and understands language in the context of how they view and practice their fields placed them, inadvertently, in a less than sunny exchange. If this is in fact the case, then perhaps reconciliation between parties is possible.